The vexing question of land acquisition for special economic zones (SEZs) and other industrial projects, and the rehabilitation of those whose lands are acquired, appears set to find a solution that is satisfactory to all concerned.
Addressing the 79th Annual General Meeting of the Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry (Ficci) on Monday, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh said that the government would put in place a new rehabilitation policy for those affected by land acquisition in the next three months. The policy would be more progressive, humane and conducive to the long-term welfare of all stakeholders, he said.
The prime minister was responding to Ficci president Saroj K Poddar’s suggestion that acquisition of land for industrialisation and special economic zones should be done at market rates. “There is no reason why the spread of industrialisation should be a contentious issue. Issues such as land acquisition and displacement of people and their resettlement should be transparently addressed. We will be finalising a new rehabilitation policy in three months.”
His remarks assume importance in backdrop of recent events in Singur and Nandigram in West Bengal, where farmers reacted violently to their land being acquired for industrial purposes.
Singh said Indian industry must address the need to empower weaker sections of the society, particularly the Scheduled Castes, Scheduled Tribes and minorities, so that they can benefit from the process of economic and social development. Industrial development is not a zero-sum game, and can be a win-win process for all sections of society, he stressed. He appeared to be obliquely attempting to tone down his own remarks at the National Development Council meeting, which were interpreted as saying that minorities, particularly Muslims, had the first right to national resources.
“If we act wisely and with the best interests of the country at heart, we can transform our economy and society. I believe we are on the threshold of a new era of knowledge-based development. The country requires long-term and strategic thinking,” Singh told the captains of industry at the Ficci meeting.
Outlining the priorities for the forthcoming Budget, the Prime Minister called for a decisive war against poverty, ignorance and disease with an emphasis on revitalisation of agriculture, apart from a re-look at tax exemptions and keeping inflation under a tight rein. “I hope the supply chains that are being built reach out directly to the farmers, ensuring more remunerative prices. The integrated food law has been passed by Parliament and will become operational in the next few months,” he said.
Expressing concern over the “irrational exuberance” at the stock exchanges, he indicated that the government’s priority was to ensure stability of the booming capital markets. Referring to the need to promote growth with equity, he said, “Our tax regime should be liberal but equitable... In the long run our tax regime should not have too many... exemptions which make tax administration an unnecessarily complex exercise, vulnerable to misuse.” Singh said the country would now move toward a common General Sales Tax and better harmonisation of Value Added Tax. As India gradually integrates into the global financial system, the government would move into a less restrictive foreign exchange regime, he said. “The recommendations of Tarapore Committee are a step in this direction, mixing caution with optimism,” he stated.
The prime minister lauded the turnaround and revitalisation of Indian Railways as a classic example of what good governance with focus can achieve in a short period of time. However, he said there was a need to clear up the act in the power sector.